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Danae by Jan Mabuse (aka Jan Gossaert)
31 Jul 2011

Die Liebe der Danae, Bard Summerstage

In the modern operatic world, respect for the oeuvre of any given composer, as well as his stylistic development and placement in operatic history, is sacrosanct.

Richard Strauss: Die Liebe der Danae

Danae: Meagan Miller; Jupiter: Carsten Wittmoser; Midas: Roger Honeywell; Xanthe: Sarah Jane McMahon; Pollux: Dennis Petersen; Merkur: Jud Perry; Semele: Aurora Sein Perry; Europa: Camille Zamora; Alcmene: Jamie Van Eyck; Leda: Rebecca Ringle. American Symphony Orchestra. Conducted by Leon Botstein, music director. Directed by Kevin Newbury. Set Design by Rafael Viñoly and Mimi Lien. Costumes by Jessica Jahn. Lighting by D. M. Wood.

Above: Danae by Jan Mabuse (aka Jan Gossaert)


Consequently, organizations such Bard Summerstage, which have these tenets incorporated into their mission, serve an invaluable purpose.

The opera portion of this year’s festival, saw the U.S. premier of Richard Strauss’s forgotten gem Die Liebe der Danae. At first glance, Bard’s decision to present this opera may seem a bit strange. After all, Strauss is a very well-represented late Romantic composer. Yet, on closer inspection, one realizes that Strauss, like Jean Sibelius, who co-shares the spotlight of this festival, fell out of favor with the 20th century public, who viewed his unabashed tonality as antique. To be sure, there are moments in Strauss’s music that are atonal, but as far as operas go, people were more interested in the shock value of Salome than in the lyricism of Die Liebe der Danae.

Despite occasional blemishes, the cast and production team managed to present the opera in such a way that made a compelling case for Strauss’s unapologetic melodies, as well as the composer’s penchant for utilizing even the most omnipresent of mythic gods.

Under the direction of Leon Botstein, the American Symphony Orchestra exhibited both the lyricism and the humor of the score. While it is wonderful to see a new side of a revered composer, it is also enjoyable to revel in what he is already known for. In this case, I would have liked to see more of a balance between the humor and lyricism in Act I, but Botstein improved in that regard as the opera progressed.

The cast was headed by Meagan Miller, who has previously won the National Council Auditions of the Metropolitan Opera. Her voice was powerful, yet also extremely lyrical. For those used to other sopranos such as Lauren Flanigan, the deep timbre of her voice may, at first, be disconcerting, but there were times throughout the performance, when during a lyrical passage, the audience was simply spellbound. As Midas, Roger Honeywell was stunning. Especially noteworthy was his Act I entrance, which put the difficulty of the role on par with Verdi’s Otello. There were times when he seemed to lose stamina, but those moments were few, and he quickly recovered. Of mention were Jud Perry, who played Mercury, and Aurora Sein Perry, Camille Zamora, Jamie Van Eyck, and Rebecca Ringle, who played Semele, Europa, Alcmene, and Leda, respectively. They brought a comic element to the opera which was much appreciated. Although the four women required time to warm up as an ensemble, they managed to create spotless psychological portrayals on the individual level, and by the end, they worked as a cohesive group.

It must be said that, as Jupiter, Carsten Wittmoser was a bit lackluster. However, he too improved by the last act. Still, it has been said that Jupiter was a complex character, on par with Der Rosenkavalier’s Maria Theresa, and Wittmoser missed many opportunities to demonstrate the complexities of this most-human king of the gods.

Overall the production was impeccable and visually compelling. The chorus sang strongly and portrayed the greedy inhabitants of Eos in a way that strengthened Kevin Newbury’s modern adaptation, which set the story in post-recession America. The physical aspects of the production were stirring. The stage pictures Newbury created demonstrated both the appeal and severity of wealth, a point so crucial to the story. Additionally, there were moments that were both comic, yet touching. Such was the case when, in Act III, Danae put her suitcases in the beat up jalopy that would her car in the decidedly unwealthy life she chose with her beloved Midas.

Bard Summerstage deserves credit for a job well done for successfully resurrecting an incredibly powerful 20th century work. Die Liebe der Danae is proof positive. While Strauss’s music may be lyrical, it is richly enduring. Tastes may change, but the humanity of Strauss’s music doesn’t.

Gregory Moomjy

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